Life

Nutrition: Always read the label when buying food - or better yet, buy fresh food that doesn't need a label

Do you always read the ingredients before buying food?
Jane McClenaghan

DO YOU read food labels? What do you look for? Maybe you rely on the traffic light style labelling on the front of the pack, or perhaps you take a deeper delve and try to decipher the more detailed nutrition information panel on the back of the pack.

When packs boast claims like 'low fat', 'reduced fat' or 'no added fat', do you know the difference?

:: Front of Pack

Generally speaking the front of the pack is what grabs our attention. It could be that there is a health claim that triggers our interest, or maybe we just like the look of the packaging.

Let's take a look at the traffic light system. On the face of it, this seems like a quick and handy way to know whether you are buying something half decent, but when we take a closer look, even this can be misleading.

Take breakfast cereals as an example. Most cereal packs will display the traffic light code. Notice what it says above the coloured coding and you will see that according to most cereal producers, a portion size is somewhere between 35g to 45g.

If you were to weigh out an average 40g portion of cereal and out it into your breakfast bowl I think you would be shocked. For most people this looks like a little snack, rather than a main meal. Most of us would serve ourselves at least double the recommended amount.

The same is true for other foods too – for example, on biscuit labels manufacturers are assuming a portion size is one biscuit. So either we eat too much, or this system is flawed.

A more accurate way to find out a little more about the nutritional value of your food is to look at the nutrition panel on the back or side of the pack.

:: The ingredients list

It is always worth taking a quick look at the ingredients list on your food packages. Sometimes this reads like a chemistry experiment: food made by scientists rather than by nature. Leave that sort of junk food on the shelf. It doesn't belong in a kitchen, never mind in your body.

:: How to read a label

If you look at one thing on the nutrition panel, look at the sugar content. Forget low fat and skinny claims. It is sugar that makes us fat and sick. If your food contains 5g or less per 100g (not per portion size), then it is classified as a low sugar food. Anything over 22.5g and it is high in sugar.

Be careful of low fat foods that are often packed with sugar.

:: Low fat, reduced sugar or no added salt

The words 'reduced' and 'no added' can be misleading. For example, foods with no added sugar can still contain natural sugars that will impact on our blood sugar and insulin balance, contributing to weight gain and poor health.

'Reduced' fat/sugar/salt can still mean the food is relatively high in fat/sugar/salt, it just contains less than the original.

Looking out for 'low sugar' foods is a good start, but just remember that this does not always mean it is a healthy choice.

When it comes to food shopping, it can be difficult to know whether you are making a healthy choice. Keep things simple – buy food that doesn't need a label. Fresh, unprocessed real food is always the best option.

Eat as little processed food as possible. That way, you know exactly what you are eating.

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